The future of driving

Intelligence & connectivity

When will the first self-driving cars appear on the market? What new technologies and what level of connectivity will they need? How will we view cars that drive more safely than we do, and how will they change society?

Audi developers Marcus Keith and Andreas Reich meet traffic researcher Prof. Dr. Michael Schreckenberg at the Munich Traffic Control Centre to discuss the topic. Here, public-administration and police operators control the traffic 24/7 and have to respond to around 2,000 alerts every day. Some 700 cameras, most of them in tunnels, supply video images that are constantly monitored on a 17-metre-wide multimedia wall.

The way to piloted driving

About four million cars travel along Munich’s streets every day, but only a fraction of them communicate with their surroundings. For all the high tech that the city has at its disposal, the Traffic Control Centre in Moosach can only guide the traffic to a certain extent; direct communication with the vehicles is not yet possible. Audi is working on new technologies that cars will use to organise themselves – including comprehensive connectivity, as well as new systems for autonomous driving that Audi calls piloted driving.

Models such as the new A4 and new Q7 already point the way ahead. Their online services, grouped together under the term Audi connect, link them to the Internet, the infrastructure and to other vehicles. Their assistance systems operate predictively – for instance, they can alert the driver to a tight bend that comes just after the crest of a hill, or traffic jam assist can take charge of the steering in slow-moving traffic on good roads, at a speed of up to 60 km/h. These technologies represent a pre-stage to piloted driving, which will be introduced in series production in 2017 with the next A8 generation.

"Piloted driving cars can save lives. The biggest source of error remains the human being."

Marcus Keith
Head of Development for Display/Operation/Audi connect, AUDI AG

Can you sketch out the Audi roadmap all the way up to piloted driving?

Reich: We are moving towards piloted driving on two levels. One is the autobahn. For such driving conditions, we will gradually increase the speed, enable lane-changing and gain a command of complex situations. The other level is piloted driving in the parking garage or on the parking lot. The driver climbs out at the barrier, and the car does the rest all by itself. The low speeds involved here mean such an environment can be controlled extremely well. Over time these two areas will converge, strongly supported by the new assistance and safety systems.

"If vehicles drive themselves, traffic will become more defensive and there will be far fewer accidents."

Andreas Reich
Head of Electrics/Electronics Pre-Development, Audi Electronics Venture GmbH

Defensive and safe 

Confirmed on the monitor wall in the Traffic Control Centre in an array of individual images: On the Tuesday afternoon of Audi’s visit, Munich’s traffic is flowing as it should. Not just because all drivers are keeping to the rules, but also because some of them interpret the rules a little more liberally and occasionally cross a solid line to speed up the process of lane-changing. Self-driving cars don’t do that – according to Marcus Keith, it goes without saying that their technology is designed to comply with legal requirements.


How easily will the driver be able to handle the computer at the steering wheel in the future?

Schreckenberg: Today’s traffic works because most of us have signed up to a kind of code of conduct. That equilibrium gets disrupted if a foreign body operates by different rules. The same is true of a person sitting in an autonomous car: If they can’t influence the vehicle’s responses they’ll soon lose confidence in it. That’s why we should try to humanise autonomous cars – maybe by providing a kind of humaniser button that will also allow us to do 60 km/h on city streets. But first we need to achieve an even better understanding of how humans behave behind the wheel before we can transfer that idea to the vehicle.

Reich: adopt a different perspective: If vehicles drive themselves, traffic will become more defensive and there will be far fewer accidents.


So we’ll be driving significantly more slowly?

Keith: I don’t think so – more fluidly, perhaps. I’m with Andreas Reich on this: Piloted driving cars can save lives. The biggest source of error remains the human being.

"First we need to achieve an even better understanding of how humans behave behind the wheel before we can transfer that idea to the vehicle."

Prof. Dr. Michael Schreckenberg
Professor for Physics of Transport and Traffic, University of Duisburg-Essen

HERE – digital image of our world of mobility

There are about 1,200 sets of traffic lights in Munich, and most of them work automatically. Audi is now going the next step: In 2017, traffic lights will start connecting with cars in several U.S. cities. The driver of a new Q7 or A4 sees a display in the cockpit telling them what speed to drive in order to reach the next traffic light on green. The new service can cut fuel consumption in urban traffic by 15 percent. In parallel, Audi is adding the first Car-to-X technologies to its connect portfolio in Europe – the new models are becoming part of a swarm. They report the speed limits or hazard points they have identified to a server in the cloud, via the mobile communications network. The server collects the data, processes it and makes it available to other Audi drivers – customised to their situation, and always right up to date.

Connectivity and Car-to-X are inseparable elements of piloted driving – and now this entire field of technology is getting a new platform. A few months ago, AUDI AG acquired the mapping service HERE together with the BMW Group and Daimler AG.


Mr. Keith, what will HERE be able to contribute in the future?
Keith: HERE has the potential to generate a digital image of our world of mobility – with extreme precision thanks to the enormous level of detail of the data, and up to the minute by virtue of the dynamic content. We can pack many layers of information into the centimetre-precise maps – from traffic light cycles and information on parking spaces to the individual behaviour of drivers on the move, a really important aspect. To obtain the algorithms that you need to make precise predictions, there are a number of technology firms in the United States and China who have specialised in the field of artificial intelligence or machine learning. I believe it would be a good idea to talk to such suppliers.


Communication uses the mobile network, via the HERE back end, in other words via a server in the cloud. How secure is customer data?

Reich: We talk of security by design – we consider the topic right at the start of development. And we have given the cars’ electronics architecture firewalls and separate control units to prevent a hacker from getting at the brakes, steering and accelerator.


What about passing on customer data to third parties?

Keith: When we pass on movement data to a traffic flow provider today, this information is anonymised. That must remain the case – we will continue to separate the individual-related entertainment data from the vehicle data that we need for functions. And there is plenty of the latter, because our cars are becoming intelligent systems. Radar-guided cruise control, for instance, will work even more accurately in the future if we can keep optimising its control algorithm via the back end.

Vision: piloted driving

There are many social dimensions to the vision of “piloted driving”. One of them was recently set out by Audi Board of Management Chairman Rupert Stadler. “We see the Audi of the future as a place to work, a place of relaxation and a place to experience things. If the cars of the future can drive automatically, people will be able to use the time they spend on board differently. They will reach their destination faster, more conveniently and stress-free. All that saves time, and time is the most precious gift in today’s world.”

Further information

Please find here further information regarding corporate responsibility at Audi.

Related Articles